Coachella: A Plan of Attack for Newbies

It's right about this time of year that I start to get really annoying, talking endlessly about Coachella and Bonnaroo. Last year I even doubled down and coined #coachellie, because I will not rest until everyone's eyeballs roll right out of their heads.

And yet, whenever I look at my blog stats, the posts I've written about festivals are consistently among the most viewed - particularly the one I wrote about going solo as a woman. And it's fun to think that something I've blogged could be helpful or informative.

With that in mind, I'm going to limit my Coachella preview (LOL so dumb, I can haz job, Spin?) to three posts, with the hopes that one or all of the posts will be useful to at least someone. And I'll try to get them out as quickly as possible, because it's coming up fast!

Part one, for Coachella newbies - a Festival Plan of Attack
Part two, for lazy/busy Coachella attendees - a 2014 Suggested Artist List, with notes
Part three, for general music fans - a quick list of great new stuff I've discovered in my research


Coachella Preview Part One - A Festival Plan of Attack

Staring down the the list of artists for a festival is daunting to say the least. And I've been to enough fests by now that I know the scheduling apps (which coordinate with the festival's website) are only helpful once you know WHO you want to see. But how do you even start to make selections, when you've got a bajillion bands to choose from, many of whom you've never even heard of?

Well, it's not easy or quick, but I've come up with a system that helps me tackle the list in manageable way. In my experience, it's completely worth the effort and time invested. I find I get so much more enjoyment out of the festival if I've at least familiarized myself a little bit with the entire lineup - and gotten downright cozy with the artists I'm seeing. I don't feel stressed that I might be missing out on something great, because I've done my homework. Plus, there is nothing like discovering and falling in love with a new-to-you band just in time to see them live. (I discovered The Vaccines days before Bonnaroo last year and they are now one of my favorites of all time. I can't imagine how crushed I'd have been if I hadn't given them a listen beforehand).

Here's the way I break down my festival "research".

1. First, I write up a list of all the artists. Forget the website/app lineups - you need to have an actual typed list somewhere handy, whether or on your computer or other device (I use the notepad on my phone), or old fashioned pen and paper. Find a music website where the lineup is actually typed out, and either copy/paste, or manually write it up. Here's one that lists all of Coachella 2014 (beware, though, it has lots of typos). I prefer to list the lineup pretty much as it appears on the poster. Friday - Sunday, headliners first.

2. Now comes the labor-intensive but fun part: lots and lots and lots of listening. Spotify is invaluable here (honestly, I don't know how anyone could plan a festival without it). Band by band, artist by artist, I go through and listen to some of each one. This takes days if not weeks, because I try to give them all a fair shake. I do it here and there, as I have free time (or while doing household stuff like cleaning.) If you've got Spotify mobile, you can check out bands while you're commuting, exercising, etc. (part of why I keep my list on my phone). After I've given each group a listen, I put a number from 1 to 5 next to its name on the list, where 1 = I have no desire to see it and 5 = it's a must-see. Here's a snippet of my (very ambitious) Saturday:


If you already know bands you don't want to see (or those you for sure do), don't waste time listening to them. Just plunk down a 1 and a 5, respectively, and keep going.

3. When you've gone through the entire list, start making playlists for each day. Put all of your 5s in there, and maybe some of your top 4s. You won't have time to see 3s or 2s. Again, Spotify is priceless for this. You can put as much or as little in the lists as you like, obviously. I tend to throw in all the top hits plus the most recent album (with only 50 minute sets, most artists tend to stick to crowd favorites and promoting their most recent work). My playlists tend to be massive, so I don't enable offline listening (since it chews up all of my phone's memory). Now you've got a go-to compilation for the stuff you know you want to hear at the festival, and you can start listening to it whenever you're at home.

4. Next, I get specific. As I'm listening to these massive playlists here and there (usually on shuffle), I start compiling one final "best of" playlist that has all my favorite tunes from the artists I want to see. This isn't necessary, and it's an extra bit of work - but there's nothing like hearing your jam at a festival, when you've been anticipating it for months. It really is the best. And the more jams you've been excited about, the more exciting the whole experience will be.

5. Finally, the hard part - the release of the schedule, which comes out mere days beforehand. Guaranteed this will fuck up your plans, because the chances of you being able to see everything you want are nil. There is always overlap, and you'll always have to make sacrifices. But it's okay! This is where your 1-5 list will come in handy. As you start to schedule your days, you'll see that sometimes overlap will prevent you from getting across the grounds in time to see an artist you like (always allow for at least 10 minutes to get clear across the field at Coachella - 20 or even 30 at Bonnaroo and Outside Lands). But chances are there'll be a 4 somewhere closer that you can catch some of instead. It's much easier to be flexible in your planning when you've got a clearer idea of your yes's and your no's, and you'll be spared the last-minute panic of figuring out how to spend your weekend.

The best thing about doing the research is that as you're walking around all weekend and you see the various marquee lineups at the stages, you'll be familiar enough with the artist to remember, Ah yeah, I think I wanted to catch a bit of this. Or, No way, wasn't interested in this at all. And your time and festival dollars will be maximized.

But again, it is a LOT of listening, and the sooner you start, the better!

Additional tips:

  • Follow the artists you're interested in seeing on social media. It's more fun to see them at festivals if you've gotten to know even them more through snapshots of their daily lives, and backstage glimpse of shows.
  • Many of the newer/smaller EDM artists have limited stuff on Spotify, but you can almost always find them on SoundCloud.
  • If you're going to multiple festivals this year, keep an eye on those other websites/social media accounts for lineup releases or sneak previews (Bonnaroo gives hints every few days on Instagram). There tends to be a lot of overlap during any given season, so if you're lucky enough to have a chance to catch an artist the second time around, you can pull them from your Coachella schedule. 


Terence, bless his coeur, swears he likes to speak French with me in spite of how badly I consistently butcher it. He tends to speak so quickly that I freeze, too flustered to keep up. (College was a loooong time ago.) But I know it means a lot to him that I try. I imagine that since it's his first language (and the one he still speaks with his dad), it activates a part of his identity that he doesn't get to dial into much otherwise. And I want to be able to give him that, if only in my very limited way.

So I've been brushing up, using iPad apps I already had, plus one I've recently downloaded: Duolingo. I'm barely into the lower levels, but I love it. It's much more interactive and fun than the other apps, and structured with goals and prizes (you can cash in points for things like new outfits for your "coach", a whistle-wearing, pep-talking owl). I do wish there were more vocal exercises, but you can get around that by just reading aloud all of the written ones. The best part is how weird and random some of the sentences are. Le requin est rouge. Ses jupes ont des poches grandes. Also, the section on alcohol is a hoot. Nous boivent beaucoup de vin rouge. Yes. Yes we do.

If you're learning a language or want to bone up on one, I def suggest checking it out - as does Slate! It's the number one recommended app for annoying your loved ones with random foreign language ejaculations.


Monsieur Noir and his family were running late, which greatly annoyed his wife. Eglantine hated having to rush, even when it was just the two of them. With the children in tow, it was downright chaotic. Sebastian seemed determined to render himself as filthy as possible in the hour prior to dinner, requiring an unnecessarily long bath. And Genevieve refused to go anywhere without her eyestalk bows (one of which Sebastian had unraveled and commissioned as a makeshift splint for brave Private Loeffler, injured in Friday's bedtime battle). By the time they left the house, Mme. Noir was so flustered she forgot to check the mailbox for the gloating postcard she'd been expecting any day now from Santorini. Her in-laws were nothing if not reliably boastful about their travels.

"For heaven's sake, Henri, slow down. They won't give our table away at this hour." Henri ignored this, causing his wife to glance at him nervously. "You did make a reservation, n'est-ce pas?"

"Of course, darling. But you know I don't like running into the Lacombes," he replied, pronouncing with obvious distaste the name of the neighbors who tended to be found, most Sunday nights, stationed in their usual spot near the club's front door. (Mme. Lacombe, it was rumored, suffered from agoraphobia, and thus preferred to have a clear escape route.) "Jacques is always so..." M. Noir cast about for the right word to express his disdain. "...familiar."

Eglantine didn't respond. Her husband's attitude towards les parvenus was nothing new, but it never failed to chafe her. She was, after all, from the 18th arrondissement herself, the daughter of working-class slugs. Henri's blue blood, cut to fifty percent by the time it coursed the veins of his children, occasionally drained from his heart and pooled, in a most ugly fashion, around his ego. It wasn't why she'd married him, that was for certain.

The family crawled in silence, the children absorbed in a competition to see who could leave the bigger trail behind them on the sidewalk. The game took all of their concentration and, Eglantine supposed, would leave them so dehydrated that dinner would be a multiple soda affair. Oh well, she thought. At least they're being quiet.

When they found themselves, a little while later, standing before the grand double doors of Gastropodapub, Henri paused to check his reflection in the glass. Smoothing his mustache, he addressed his wife without looking at her. "Remember cherie, je ne veux pas parler avec les Lacombes ce soir." And then, as if the idea had come to him like a pleasant memory forgotten, he leaned over to kiss her cheek.

Eglantine smiled and nodded wordlessly at her husband, still undeniably handsome even if the shine had long since faded from his shell. She ushered her young children into the restaurant's foyer, nicking a speck of pollen off Sebastian's back as he moved past. This was her family, and she loved them dearly.

Henri exchanged a few words with the hostess, who beckoned to the group a moment later with raised menus and a welcoming smile. "Noir, escargatoire of four?" Single file, they followed her through a dining room filled with the delicious aroma of soups, sauces, and other enticing fare.

Sunday dinner really was the best.


I didn't see him at first. Staring down at my phone, Googling a scene from Othello that an IG friend had referenced, listening to The Helio Sequence with my headphones on (big, puffy ones, that block out the world). Walking through Pershing Square on my way to my favorite local small grocery because I was craving delicacies for dinner - prosciutto, burrata, maybe some balsamic jelly.

But suddenly there he was in front of me, pleading a case I wouldn't hear until I yanked my headphones off, which I did, stuffing my phone in my back pocket. He apologized for startling me, taking a step back and putting his arms up defensively. "I don't want to scare anybody, I just need some help, I'm here from out of town and--"

"I have no cash," I interrupted, truthfully. Four words I've said on an almost daily basis in the four years I've lived downtown. But rather than turn away abruptly as most do - as I've grown used to them doing, both of us moving on as if nothing significant has happened, as if the four words I've spoken explain or excuse the enormous gulf of privilege across which I'm speaking them - he just sort of sank into himself, where he stood. Crestfallen doesn't feel like the right word. Crestfallen is a Harry Potter character getting sorted into Ravenclaw House, when he was hoping for Gryffindor. This boy was defeated. Resigned. And something about his resignation was familiar to me. I found myself saying more.

"I only have a debit card, but can I buy you a sandwich or something? Are you hungry? Do you want--" He sprang into life again.

"Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, that would be amazing. Really? That would be amazing. I'm so hungry. I haven't eaten all day and that's just...can I hug you? Is that okay? I'm just, thank you so much..." He threw his arms around me like we were reunited lovers at the airport.

I don't know how old he was. I've reached the age where anyone younger than twenty-five looks like a teenager to me, so it's hard to say. He had blond hair and blue eyes and filthy clothing, and I believed the story he started to tell me as we walked across the street to Subway. Details spilled out more quickly than I could keep track, but I got the gist. Left home about a month ago. Cincinnati. Planned on staying with friends in LA. Lisa and Brittany, a couple. Hit a snag when Brittany found out he used to date Lisa. Kicked out. Figured he'd be better off downtown than Hollywood. Waiting for a friend driving down from NorCal to pick him up and take him back home.

He lit a cigarette, which he had to immediately extinguish, since we'd reached the door. He tamped it against the wall, apologizing. "I should have waited, that was stupid, I'm sorry." As we stepped into the restaurant, fast food fluorescence illuminated what I hadn't noticed outside: the kid was high. He couldn't stay still. His fingers flitted about like caged butterflies, and he danced back and forth on the balls of his feet. I glanced around nervously, but we were alone save for a sole diner at a table in the corner, and the employee who spoke to my companion with a gentleness that I was grateful for. Meanwhile, I listened to nonstop chatter, fueled by I don't know what drug.

"What do you like to get? I take my Subway very seriously, haha. What did you say your name was? Ellie. Ellie, I'll never forget this. Wow, you are a good person. Can I have a footlong Italian? Extra pickles, please. Yeah, that's great. And could you just give me one good line of that Southwestern sauce? Oh that's perfect, thank you so much. Wow, I just can't tell you how much I appreciate this. That looks so good, I'm so hungry--"

He darted away from the counter to fill his soda cup, and when he came back I asked if he'd like anything else. "Do you want to get a couple bags of chips or anything, for later? Some cookies or something?" And it was the way he looked at me, when I asked this, that made me realize what was familiar. I was standing next to my older brother. I was buying my older brother a meal. The one (and only) that I haven't seen in years. The homeless drifter, the addict, the ex-con, the slightly blacker sheep than myself. His same, sad mixture of dejection and shocked indebtedness, when someone did something nice for him. And I wondered whether under this boy's exterior there was any of my brother's same, sad mixture of deep despair and dangerous anger. I wondered what combination of circumstance, bad luck, and bad decision making had landed him where he was today.

Not that it mattered. In either case.

We said goodbye and exited through different doors, and when I walked back through the park a little while later, a paper bag full of organic vegetables and artisanal cheese crooked in my arm, he wasn't in the same place that he'd been before.

this is the new

Skateboards and smart phones and guitars, oh my.

Downtown the young ones are going
Downtown the young ones are growing
They're the kids in America.

in defense of snapshots

I'm in the process of winnowing down the photos I'm going to use for my 2013 year-in-pics video. I've done them for 2010, 2011, and 2012, and even though they're nothing remotely fancy, they're one of my favorite creative efforts ever. Very much worth the trouble (which is more than it should be, as my outdated, overburdened laptop is basically a paperweight at this point) - a cathartic way to be nostalgic, to reflect, and in some ways, to say goodbye.

Most of the pics that go into these videos are crappy cell phone photos. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Because the quality of the pictures doesn't really matter to me, so long as the people in them are recognizable. They're just memory triggers, anyway. All I want from them is to be instantly transported to that moment, that instant in which I was laughing or loving or just enjoying myself enough to want to record the feeling. And I get there just fine, no matter what the pixel count or clarity. And best of all, I know that in that moment I wasn't weighed down with a cumbersome dSLR, futzing about with F-stops and other settings. I was actually present, checking out only long enough to snap a quick pic on my cell phone.

Deciding to stop posting photos - and recapping social events - on Elliequent was one of the best blogging decisions I've ever made. I don't have to worry about impressing anyone with my photos. I don't have to drag a dSLR to parties and get side eye when I invest way too much time trying to get that perfect blog-worthy shot. I can just enjoy myself and my friends.

My dSLR isn't going anywhere. I like using it at public events around town, just for fun and creative release. Photography is still an erstwhile hobby for me, and always will be. And occasionally friends ask me to bring my "good" camera to parties, to document the day for them with professional(ish)-looking photos. But that's about it. I don't even like taking it on vacation any more, since the trip quickly starts to revolve around finding photo opportunities rather than the collection of actual memories. I get caught up in thinking about how I'm going to capture the moment, rather than just live it.

I don't think anyone ever looks through their family albums and thinks Man, I wish my mom had a better camera or My parents should have thrown away this blurry shot of us. I think we're all just grateful the photos exist.

thoughts on metaphor in Spike Jonze's Her

I saw Her yesterday. It absolutely blew my mind, and I came away feeling inspired to write a little bit about it, because I can't remember the last time I found a film so intellectually stimulating. (Clearly I need to make better Netflix selections.) If you haven't seen it and intend to, definitely skip this post. I'd hate to spoil anything for anyone.

There is so much beautifully orchestrated symbolism in Her, both narratively and visually speaking. More often than not, I find myself rolling my eyes at the construction and delivery of metaphor in movies, which tends to feel heavy-handed, or worse - manipulative. But in Her, it just sat quietly with me, waiting for me to grasp and appreciate it. I actually got the chills when the full weight of certain dialogue exchanges and plot points settled on me. The writing is just that fantastic.

The first thing that struck me was the use of color, in the set design and costumes - bright hues that had been desaturated; softened in intensity. Oranges and corals and reds with the heat turned down - a directorial choice that I interpreted as a deliberate exception to what seem to be the two predominant colorscaping choices in films set in the future: glaring, overly bright and blown out (as if to reflect the inevitable obliteration of the ozone) or coolly monochromatic and desolate (the hopelessness of a post-apocalyptic world). The color story of Her suggests an outlook that is optimistic overall, but devoid of the falsely cheerful/easy futurism we are sometimes promised. No, there won't be jet-packs. And yes, there will still be human emotion and sentiment, in spite of our enhanced technological state. Her goes easy on us in this way. We are asked to consider some rather disturbing concepts (and occasionally make difficult leaps of logic), but the film's gentle aesthetic at least makes them easier to swallow.

Another thing I noticed about the costumes was their construction and fit. The clothing in Her is relatively conservative in style, with very little skin showing either on men or women (save for at the beach). This is especially noticeable in the outfits of Theodore's friend Amy, who dresses in layers that are literally buttoned up to her neck. In the context of a repeatedly emphasized disconnectivity between humans (everyone onscreen is perpetually dialed in to one or another electronic devices, and the degree to which we've become reliant on virtual relationships is made graphically clear in a phone sex scene involving, among all things, a dead cat), this reads like visual punctuation to that disengagement. As if, since we no longer let us see one another's emotions without some kind of mediating barrier, we may as well hide our bodies from each other, too. On the other hand, the wardrobing of Her seems like a reaction - a backlash, even, to our contemporary era of Facebook overshare. Having let our collective, digital guard down so completely that privacy has become a joke, the last frontier of self-containment - our bodies - is the place we've put up a stop sign. No. You can see everything else about me, but you can't see this.

One last note on the scenic qualities of Her. Besides being thrilled by how many familiar sights I identified in the film (which was shot largely in my neighborhood, in places I walk Chaucer almost daily), I loved the way in which it uses vertical space. Theodore's apartment is located on the upper level of a high rise, a physical counterpoint to the lows of his emotional life. Many scenes take place in the elevator at his workplace, emphasizing the intense ups and downs he's experiencing in his romantic life and even, I think, subtly reminding us that control over those ups and downs rests in the technological realm. He punches a button, and he goes up. He punches another, and he goes down...and so it is that with the entering of certain keystrokes (both actual, in his case, and metaphysically, in hers), Theodore's relationship with Samantha approaches new highs, or plummets to unanticipated depths.


When Theodore installs the operating system he eventually falls in love with, the very first decision she makes (that is, the first computational calculation that it makes) is what to name herself. The scene is handled with such grace and sweetness that as I watched it, it didn't even dawn on me how befitting and natural a first choice this is. But it couldn't be more so, because that's exactly how we commemorate a new life, after all - by naming it. In allowing Samantha to dictate this very essential aspect of her own "birth", we are being shown, right off the bat, precisely who the greater intelligence is. And yet her immaturity (in terms of human qualities) and youthfulness is reinforced by the playfulness she exhibits with Theodore, engaging like a teenager in his gaming sessions and even sending him a childishly crude drawing.

Yet despite her stumbling beginnings, Samantha's emotional growth speeds up exponentially, in ways that are initially exciting to both her and Theodore, then troubling, then ultimately destructive to their relationship. And this is where, in my opinion, we stand to learn the most from Her. Because in spite of her vastly superior abilities of cognition, the one thing she cannot learn on her own is how to love. Samantha has what is probably best line of the film: "I don't know if my emotions are real or if they're just programming." With the amount of time and energy we invest in our online lives, one can't help but shudder at her prophetic words. Because at what point do we cease to feel actual emotions, when our interactions with one another become more and more removed? At what point do those emotions become facsimiles of emotion - emoji-laden autoresponses to memes, to "trending topics", to the #hashtags we categorize our life experiences with, in order to make them relatable to the strangers we share them with? Am I actually smiling, when I send a smiley face into the ether(net)? Am I actually laughing, when I type L-O-L?

Not always.

Theodore's budding human-OS romance is, in may ways, an inversion of his dying human-human one (i.e., his divorce). In one of my favorite moments from the film, he describes to Samantha what his marriage was like. He explains that his wife and he created a space where they were safe to try new things, and to fail (and safe, therefore, to learn) But failure does not compute in Samantha's world. There are only 0s and 1s, to be configured and reconfigured in ways that will move her beyond Theodore's understanding, and beyond his reach. So despite her being the more evolved entity, and despite the fact that theoretically, she should be able to program herself to emotional perfection - ultimately, she is useless to Theodore. Because as a human being, his greatest lessons are learned through human failings. In a way, his failed marriage taught him more than Samantha ever could, since in his ex-wife was reflected another set of human shortcomings - of flawed humanity. In Samantha is only reflected an idealized version of his hopes and dreams; artificial software that is calibrated to meet his logistical needs, but cannot, at the end of the day, meet his emotional ones.


Last night I went to Hollywood to meet Pinkman in our usual public spot, but since he was still waiting on his, uh, delivery, he asked if I could just come by his place instead. I got to his building and saw it's nicer than my own, which was hilarious. This happened while I waited to be buzzed in:

And not that anyone will believe me, but I really was buying for friends. And for the love of god this is not meant as a swipe at anyone who's understandably given me side eye over drug use, which I TOTALLY GET. It's just funny.

PPRL: Empire Falls, by Richard Russo (winner, 2002)


Small town Empire Falls, Maine and its inhabitants struggle to survive a depressed economy and the political, social, and romantic machinations of one another. Protagonist Miles Roby, who runs the local diner, fights various external battles - with his eccentric, troublesome father, with his self-absorbed, immature ex-wife, with the vengeance-obsessed and shrewd town matriarch, with the antagonistic, jealous town cop - while coming to terms with his life choices, his familial history, and his place in Empire Falls.

My Thoughts

While I enjoyed it, and found the characters compelling and beautifully developed (teenage daughter Tick was my favorite), something about the novel felt inorganic - almost self-conscious, as if it was written with an eye to dramatic adaptation. I didn't always believe action and dialogue that I was asked to believe. Still, I found the story mostly absorbing, even if the tragic ending totally blindsided me.

Selected Excerpts

Though Miles didn't think of himself as a man up to no good, he did prefer the notion of an all-loving God to that of an all-knowing one. It pleased him to imagine God as someone like his mother, someone beleaguered by too many responsibilities, too dog-tired to monitor an energetic boy every minute of the day, but who, out of love and fear for his safety, checked in on him whenever she could.


One of the odd things about middle age, he concluded, was the strange decisions a man discovers he's made by not really making them, like allowing friends to drift away through simple neglect.


After all, what was the whole wide world but a place for people to yearn for their hearts' impossible desires, for those desires to become entrenched in defiance of logic, plausibility, and even the passage of time, as eternal as polished marble? 

Werds I Lerned (Or Had Fergotten)

aegis - the protection, backing, or support of a particular person or organization
venal - showing or motivated by susceptibility to bribery
codger - an elderly man, esp. one who is old-fashioned or eccentric 
strafe - attack repeatedly with bombs or machine-gun fire from low-flying aircraft
offing - the more distant part of the sea in view
scofflaw - a person who flouts the law, esp. by failing to comply with a law that is difficult to enforce effectively 
"Coals to Newcastle" - a foolhardy or pointless action

Next Up

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz 

if only

Once there was a girl on a journey to a place she'd never gone before. Never having been there didn't slow the girl down, however, for she was impatient, and keen to be in a new place. She became so anxious to reach her destination, in fact, that she took to traveling at night, despite being unsure of the path.

The girl stumbled in the dark, stubbornly pressing on even though prudence would have had her wait til dawn. "If only I had a lantern," she pined, and just as the words escaped her, the girl tripped and fell into a burrow hidden in the forest floor.

She sat for a moment, stunned into silence and unsure what she ought to do next. The moon, who'd been watching, took pity on the girl and shone more brightly. Illuminating white light pooled around her, and she dusted herself off and climbed back out, never noticing the change in the cold night sky.

On the girl walked through the small hours, stopping only to gather wild berries and drink from the stream. Sunrise spread slowly on the horizon, and soon she was warm and confident of her way once again. But it wasn't long before the girl, tired of the road, sighed, "If only I wasn't alone." The birds in the branches heard her complaint, and cheerfully raised their voices in the morning sun. A tune suddenly came to her, and the girl began to whistle it without wondering from whence it came.

Believing she was close to her journey's end, the girl moved ever faster through the wood. She paid no attention to where she stepped, crushing wildflowers and scattering the makings of an animal's den along the way. "If only it were tomorrow!" she remarked, dreaming of all that would be different, and forgetting all that wouldn't. 

But the sun, who could have inched his way more quickly across the heavens and granted the girl's wish, did not hear it. He only heard the birdsong that filled the forest and floated up to the wide, blue sky, from where the girl on the ground looked very, very small, and very, very lost.

in which I announce that I have updated my 'ABOUT' page and use the phrase "totes fresh"

It is now eight thousand words long, as opposed to four thousand.

It contains some reworded old information and some totes fresh new information, none of which is particularly exciting.

It can be seen here.

Happy Monday.

I knew better.

When I was a kid, my parents took my brother and I to an amusement park in the Midwest (I don't remember what it was called), where one of the "attractions" was a cluster of small glass cages containing animals that had been taught to perform tricks for food.

I don't recall exactly how the tricks worked, but they were things like peck the keys of a miniature piano, or play some kind of mechanized version of tic-tac-toe. I definitely remember ducks and rabbits, but there may have been chickens, too. You'd put a quarter in and a light would go on and a buzzer sound, to tell the animal it was show time. The whole thing lasted only a few seconds. Then: darkness, quiet, and a few bites of reward.

I remember being tall enough that I could stand on the tips of my toes to see the cages without having to be held. I remember being little enough to not understand all of the emotions I felt watching these animals robotically going through their routines, then hovering expectantly over the chute into which the handful of kibble would tumble. There was fascination, of course, and delight - I was always an animal lover - but there was something else, too. Something less familiar, and much more complicated.

A few days ago I watched Blackfish. It was every bit as depressing and infuriating as it promised to be, and I came away feeling exactly as anyone with a heartbeat should feel: disgusted, saddened, indignant. In fact, I was so moved I tweeted about the film.

That's right. I was so enraged on behalf of animals who have been forcibly removed from their homes, separated from their young, and coerced for years to perform under the threat of food deprivation that I tapped some buttons on my computer's keyboard. I also signed a bunch of online petitions. Watch out, because I am an unstoppable fucking laptop activist. I expect to hear from the Nobel committee any day now.

I actually thought carefully about how to use my 140 characters. I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of those naming Sea World publicly, to do the most damage to them, PR-wise. But I also wanted to say something along the lines of Can we please now finally agree that it's time to stop funding animal captivity?

But I realized I couldn't say that without my conscience laughing at me, because I've been to Sea World as recently as, oh, 2006. So my mind scrambled a little bit, trying to find a way to let myself off the hook. Yeah, but you thought all of those animals were, like, being rehabilitated or whatever. Or that, you know, some of them were part of some oceanographic study, to better, like, understand their biology, so we can, like, help preserve them as a species, or something. 

Or something.

Mental gymnastics: keeping my brain on the Olympic Cognitive Dissonance Team since 1980. Because yeah, no. I don't think so. I'm not letting myself off the hook for Sea World, circa 2006, or the Ringling Brothers Circus circa (and I'm guessing here) 1987, or even the piano-playing ducks from my childhood. Because if I was old enough to understand that I wouldn't want to be placed in a tiny cage away from my family, I was old enough to know that those animals didn't want that for themselves, either. And because the emotions I was too young to identify much less comprehend when I watched those animals, all those years ago, were empathy and shame. As they should have been.

What really pisses me off - at myself, that is - are the dollars I gave Sea World, as recently as my thirties. My thirties! I loved that place. Not the shows. I was always a little bit uncomfortable with the shows, knowing that there's just something wrong with an otter waddling upright to present a can of Coca Cola (logo facing front!) to a burping walrus, in front of a few hundred cheering humans.

The real draw, for me, was that interactive tide pool. Rolling up my sleeves and plunging my arms into the icy water, to gently scoop up a starfish, or a sea urchin, so I could just hold it. I've never been particularly science-minded; it was never about examining their bodies or learning their anatomy. It was just the thrill of being so close to an animal, a real live wild animal, that brought me joy. If you'd let me, I would spend hours bent over the stingray pool, nearly falling in as I reached further and further to just run my fingertips along their slippery skin. Seriously, my dad had to pry me away. Also, the aquariums. Loved those.

But I knew better. I knew there was something fishy about a tank full of dolphins who I could pay for the privilege of tossing a few anchovies to. I knew the sea lions, whose barking was so much fun to imitate, weren't quite as chuffed about being put on display for my afternoon's amusement.

Still, I went. Still, I forked over my admission money to see them, and to be near them. At amusement parks. At circuses. At zoos. Because I have always loved my fellow animals. I just haven't always loved them the way they should be loved, in the ways that are best for them.

I know I haven't said anything novel here. I just want to add my two cents - my teaspoon. I'd love to live in a world where it is not just illegal but morally taboo to even think about putting an animal in captivity for the entertainment of human beings. And I'd like to think that the more of us who take a minute to say how wrong we think it is, the more likely others will think twice about patronizing businesses that subjugate animals for profit.

So this is me just taking a minute to say how very wrong I think it is.


Closure is a curious thing - this vague sense of peace, of amicable resolution, that we hold up as some kind of ideal ending to a relationship. Like if we can just come to an agreement about why or how or who, then we can part ways feeling like mature grown ups that have learned something from our time together.

Until I felt like I had closure, for most of my adult life, I felt anything from uneasy about to downright resentful towards my ex-partners. As if the things unsaid or the issues unresolved between us were actively preventing me from moving forward. Of course, it was just the opposite. It was me choosing not to let go, and using those unspoken words, and that unsettled score, as an excuse to hang on.

It's rare that two people cheerfully agree about their incompatibility and part romantic company on mutually respectful terms. More often one wants to hold on, and one wants to let go. Feelings get hurt. Egos get bruised. And when you're going into any interaction with a bruised ego, it's easy to bring an agenda along with you. It's hard to shake hands when you've got them wrapped around the handle of an axe you can't stop grinding. Once you feel like you've been undervalued by someone, it's natural to want to prove to them you are valuable, after all, And wow did you make a mistake, and I'm going to show you just how badly, by being just soooo mature and awesome and cool about all of this. A quick, honest examination of your motives might reveal that you're less interested in sincerely saying goodbye and more interested in leaving your ex pining for your return. And what the hell kind of progress or growth is that?

Pursuing closure with someone after the relationship has ended - particularly if it's been a while - is actually pretty selfish, I think. It's selfish to parachute back into someone's life out of the blue, when really you have no idea what their state of mind about you is. Maybe they've forgiven you, or themselves - maybe they haven't. Maybe they actively mourn the loss of you from their life, or maybe they're completely apathetic toward you. The point is, to reach out because you want to feel better about things doesn't take into account what's best for them, or how your sudden reappearance is going to affect them. Sometimes you've just got to bear the weight of your own shitty feelings alone. What gives you the right to disturb any inner peace they've reached on their own, particularly if you were the hurtful party?

And I say all of this as a former peace disturber and a former peace disturbee. I've been on both ends of it. I've desperately wanted to be forgiven, to be re-enlisted as a friend, to understand and make amends. I moved progressively through stages of sadness, anger, and confusion over the course of years - years - in my attempts to reestablish contact and friendship with a former boyfriend, someone who in my twenties deeply shaped my ideas about romantic relationships. I was first gently rebuffed, then pushed away with increasing frustration, and eventually ignored altogether. And it broke my heart not a little bit. But for years I managed to convince myself, hilariously enough, of his selfishness - of his immaturity in being unable to handle having me in his life. What disgusting hubris, right? I never stopped to think Hey Ellie, maybe, for reasons that are none of your business, a relationship with you isn't what's best for him. Maybe stop expecting other people to conform to what works best for you.

On the flip side, I've had exes bring their unresolved emotions to me, hoping I'll forgive/forget the hurts they inflicted, so that they can feel better about themselves. I was recently apologized to by someone I dated briefly, who I guess thought about things and realized he'd been less than great to me. And at first it felt good to have my feelings validated. But then it was like, Wait, what is this about? Why is he reaching out, out of nowhere? Is he regretful? Is he going through some period of self-examination and growth on which I'm a box to tick off? Is this really about him wanting to make me feel better? Or is it about him wanting to feel better about himself? And all of a sudden, I had all these thoughts to sort through and deal with, that I hadn't had five minutes before. And I realized that that first blush of warmth I felt at his apology was actually just my ego smoothing itself out again. My ego: nothing deeper than that. Just me straightening my shoulders a little bit, even thinking to myself, Yeah, that's right. You did screw up. Bet you wish you hadn't.

Is that growth? Is that maturity? And is that external validation anything I really needed, anyway? What good did it do me? Wasn't I doing just fine validating myself, before it came along?

At the end of the day, no one can give us true closure but ourselves. Because no matter how many conversations we have with an ex or how much territory we retread in pursuit of agreement, ultimately we're going to land, emotionally speaking, where we're going to land. So we may as well keep the power in our own hands by processing the relationship on our own - by determining what's useful to take away and what can be let go of. If we decide for ourselves what role we played in its successes and in its failures, we don't have to wait around for anyone else's gavel to fall, to let us know where we stand. And that's empowering.

And we know we're done, really done, when we're no longer chewing the bones. No longer stewing over undefended accusations, unexplained actions - or even unspoken apologies. When our thoughts are just plain elsewhere.

Closure is our own choice to make, and the faster we make it, the faster we'll be free and available for The Next Awesome Thing.

break, broken

Hey weirdos. How's it going? Everyone survive the holidays unscathed? I hope so. Rough stuff, even under the best of circumstances. The pressure we put on ourselves, it's unreal. I for one had a minor meltdown on Christmas Eve. Terence (yep, we're graduating him from LeBoyf) stayed in town with me, rather than visit his family. Which was amazing and meant the world to me, and we had a great time - but I sort of flipped out because I felt the need to milk every moment of sentimentality out of the holiday, because my boyfriend, he loves him the sentimentality.

As do I, in measured and approved doses that are usually very heavily spiked with, oh, you know, whatever spiking apparatuses are available. Let me rewrite that in English - I like Christmas, but it can be fucking brutal on me emotionally, so nowadays I tend to spend it with friends (wait, how else would you spend it, dumbass?), alcohol, and even in 2012, the mari-ju-ana. Ho ho ho.

Minor meltdowns aside, it really was lovely. We showered Chaucer with an obscene amount of toys, then spent the evening with my closest friends downtown, having dinner, playing games, hitting our local dive bar, and eventually closing down a karaoke joint in Little Tokyo at two am, all of us obliterated and chummier than a season finale of Friends.

NYE we tucked Chaucer into bed early and spent the night in Santa Monica. We ordered room service, dawdled and screwed around in the room until nearly ten, then finally got dressed to the nines and wandered about. Much lols were had, and many inside jokes were born along with the new year. I invented a game for when we take a selfie together: coin a suggestive or gross-sounding sex act, which he then defines on the spot while I snap photos of us. Try it, seriously, it's wonderful. My favorite was the Sandy Oyster.

I guess I've taken what amounts to a de facto winter break, because all of the goings-on sort of kicked my ass and I've been just too damn tired to write much of anything. Also, I lapsed on my thyroid meds for nearly a week, and doing so catches up with me quickly and leaves me flat out exhausted until they're back in my system. (Which they are.)

I'd had plans to write some end-of-the-year, reflective type posts about things I'd learned in the previous 365 days, but life is what happens when you're busy making other plans, right? Right. But I'm still feeling sentimental about the year that's just passed, so I want to make at least a gesture towards commemorating it, in some small way. However, it occurs to me that if you've been reading this dumb little diary all year, the very last thing you need is a grade school-style summary of what happened to me. You were there. So to speak.

However, there are some things that have happened, behind-the-blog-scenes, that you don't know, and which, even edging up to telling you right now, I'm getting all misty about, because they are spectacular, and have meant the world to me. So here are

Some Really Nice Things That Happened Because of My Blog in 2013

1. My parents' close friend and employee from waaaaay back in the late '70s/early 80s found out about my dad's death, did a little digging, and, along with his wife, found Elliequent. This is a man I haven't seen since I was nine years old, but whom I remember clear as day, because he was always kind and solicitous to the little girl who was probably incessantly underfoot, pestering him and his boss for attention.

A couple of weeks ago he wrote me a letter, a long one, saying some incredibly kind things about my parents, about how much they loved one another and me, and about how my father took every opportunity to show them my photo, in later years when he visited them.

His name is Dale. Everyone say Hi, Dale. 

"I hope you don't mind that I read your blog," he wrote. "It makes me feel connected to your father."

Imagine getting such a letter, and being told that. It would explode your head, right? Also your heart. I'm still gathering up the pieces.

2. A high school English teacher who has once before used a post of mine to teach a lesson on metaphor reached out to let me know she'd used my blog in her class again. I won't reprint what she wrote to me about it, because for one thing I didn't ask her permission to do so and for another, it ended up being a fairly personal exchange, with me all teary and everything - but I can't tell you how moved and flattered and honored I was. As I said to her, I don't think landing a spot on the New York Times best seller list would be a validating and rewarding a thing to hear, as knowing something I've written has been used in a classroom. Best and most motivating compliment received on my writing, ever. I didn't shut up about it for days. (And look! I still haven't!)

3. A very sweet reader responded through email to a post I'd written that had affected her, in not necessarily the best way, but which had renewed her determination to, I'll just say, continue being a very loving person. And that's esoteric and annoyingly vague I know, but out of respect to her privacy I'll leave it at that. But wow did it move me deeply, because what more could I ask for, of this dumb little blog, than that?

4. And of course, all the rest. All the lovely comments and encouragement from everyone, whether publicly on social media or privately through messages and email, to let me know something I'd written had positively impacted them. So, so grateful for every last one of them.

Okay well that ended up being sort of lame and non-specific, sorry. More for me I guess.

Anyway, I'm feeling much better physically and now that my little winter break has been broken, I do plan on picking things back up around here again. The usual mix of overshare, creative (or not so) sputterings, and whatever else that's gotten me and you to this point.

Happy 2014.